Black History Month: Celebrating the success of Black founders with Google Cloud: Get Optimal Tech
February is Black History Month—a time for us to come together to celebrate and remember the important people and history of the African diaspora. Over the next four weeks, we will highlight four black-led startups and how they worked with Google Cloud. Our third feature highlights Optimal Technology Corporation and its founder, Reggie. Specifically, Reggie talks about how the team was able to innovate quickly with easy to use Google Cloud tools and how Optimal Tech drives sustainability using the greenest Cloud.
Every year, commercial buildings waste over $36 billion in energy based on a MIT study. Many commercial building owners do not monitor their energy usage, understand the benefits of renewable energy, and lack access to a facility manager on staff to get insights. To help solve this, Optimal was born. Optimal Tech aims to intelligently lower energy expenses for building owners using facility-management-as-a-service (FMaaS), which is unlike competing services requiring an on-staff facility or energy manager.
Specifically, our product, CARI™ (Controlling Assets with Reliable Intelligence) provides business intelligence and recommendations directly to building owners to make more informed decisions. This enhances and extends the life of key equipment and helps to solve the multi-billion dollar energy problem companies are facing everyday.
To date, Optimal has deployed over 1,000 CARI™ Solutions on U.S. hotels, saving an estimated 6,800 tons of CO2 emissions annually. The installs are estimated to save hotels up to 70% on their energy bills and help taxpayers make up to a 35% ROI.
Breaking into the energy space
As a Black-led startup in the energy industry, it was very difficult for me to get our foot in the door. To my knowledge, I am the first African-American person to develop a utility-scale solar farm. I traveled to 10 different counties educating the counties on the importance and sustainability of solar energy, only to see nine of them do business with my White competitors. This showed me that while many are ready for solar energy, they’re not ready for a founder of color.
In the one county that did accept my proposal, I built a 25-acre solar field on what was previously a cotton field. The connection to slavery, Jim Crow, and their legacies were not lost on me. My mother was a sharecropping cotton farmer and my father a tobaco farmer; I saw this as an opportunity to demonstrate how far my family and the descendants of slavery had come. While the discrimination I faced when starting my company was nothing compared to what my ancestors faced in this country, it speaks to the modern forms of racism we continue to see on a daily basis.
Empowering customers—literally—using Google Cloud’s clean technology
Using Google Cloud’s easy to use technology has allowed Optimal to scale our device fleet in a simple and repeatable way that is not possible without a fully integrated and managed pipeline service.
My team has been looking for ways to manage Optimal Tech’s large number of IoT (Internet of Things) devices and seamlessly collect and integrate that data to help our customers make informed decisions. IoT Core and Firebase have been crucial to allow our customers to manage several devices at once while providing a holistic view of their energy journey.
We use Dataflow—specifically using Pub/Sub—to aggregate all the customer data across many devices and send customers a customized report of the findings. In particular, data collected through BigQuery, works in combination with CARI™ to ensure the customized report provided to customers is user-friendly and presents targeted information to improve energy consumption.
Furthermore, as a company whose goal it is to use energy more efficiently, it is only natural that we would partner with Google Cloud, the cleanest cloud provider—one that runs on 100% renewable energy and is one of the largest corporate purchasers of renewable energy in the world.
Google for Startups: Black Founders Fund—leveling the playing field in energy entrepreneurship and energy poverty
Google for Startups helped Optimal break into the energy market, scale our tech, and expand our mission to end energy poverty. While on visits to Nigeria, Ghana and Nicaragua, energy poverty was at the forefront of my mind. Habitat for Humanity defines energy poverty as “adequate, affordable, reliable, quality, safe and environmentally sound energy services to support development”. While on these trips we lost power multiple times a day, something that in the states would cause an uproar, but loss of power was commonplace in these countries. Optimal is working on microgrids for Ghana, Nigeria and Liberia to get reliable access to energy in nearly 5,000 homes.
The importance of the Google for Startups: Black Founders Fund is illuminated in my struggles to break into the energy industry. It is difficult for people of color to secure funding for any business in general, let alone breaking into a traditionally white sector of the economy. The Black Founders Fund has provided us not only with $50K in non-dilutive funding but also crucial 1:1 mentorship in the areas of engineering, networking, goal-setting, and sales channels. Furthermore, Black Founders Fund gave us the necessary technology and $100K in Google Cloud Credits for founders like myself to scale their businesses along with a family of other black-led startups facing similar struggles. My cohort of other black-led startups hold each other accountable and provide essential love and support, all extremely valuable to startups, specifically those of underserved communities. Google has been a constant and consistent part of our story from the very beginning and wants to highlight a few Googlers who helped our journey such as Gibran Khan, Nicole Froker, and Nia Froome just to name a few. Optimal Tech looks forward to learning and growing more with Google in 2021 and beyond!
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